Issues experienced by the Penguins and Ducks seem oddly similar in 2015-16. Both hockey clubs experienced difficulty in scoring goals and earning wins in the first half, only to see rejuvenation over the second half and on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
One required a surprising coaching change. The other, tactical adjustments – amid wide speculation of an impending coaching change.
When Mike Sullivan took over as bench boss from Mike Johnston, fired in mid-December, he was given the reigns to a sputtering engine leading to the inevitable conclusion. Pittsburgh had accrued a miserable 15-10-3 record in and sat fifth in the division, a troubling predicament after adding another scoring winger at a relatively heavy cost, acquiring Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs during the off season.
On the opposite coast, Bruce Boudreau was reeling in the wake of a disappointing opening quarter, devoid of scoring ability and the necessary firepower to open up the game. I outlined in a previous post about the Ducks scoring woes beginning at the end of 2014-15, spilling over into the current season.
New Penguins coach, Sullivan, had to envision and enact methods to score more goals in a slumping, start studded lineup.
Incumbent Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim had to implement methods to increase scoring. According to this article from Arpon Basu on NHL.com, the Ducks bench boss fell back to a defensive posture in order to spark the offense, instead of ‘waiting for puck luck’.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) March 22, 2016
Let’s break down each team.
The article referenced the December 22 game versus the New York Rangers, dropping their record to 12-15-6 before a 4-2 win over Philadelphia and the Ducks departing for a Western Canada swing. The image below outlines the Ducks shot-based metrics per 60 minutes (all graphs are 5v5 with data from War-On-Ice) on a rolling 10-game basis. The solid line demarks the Dec 22 date referenced in the NHL.com article. Immediately following the solid line, we observe an odd pattern, with shots for per 60 (SF60) slightly increasing and Corsi For per 60 (CF60) actually declining. It’s odd to see an increase in shots that accompanies a drop in Corsi – a measure shot attempts towards the opposition net.
Boudreau was clearly right, the Ducks were only managing about 1.5 goals per 60 minutes, peaking at slightly over 3.5 before levelling off.
To make sense, I decided to go back to individual Corsi components (shots on goal, missed and blocked shots) and isolate each on the same 10-game rolling average. The image is below with the percentage of each component measured individually. Missed and blocked shots are measured with the left scale, while shots percentage of the Corsi makeup is measured on the right scale and represented by the bar graph.
The yellow bar is the December 22 date. Immediately we see the increase in shots on goal making up overall Corsi For while missed/blocked shots were dropping. Shots on goal hit a peak soon after this period, up from the season’s worst output indicated in the trough just prior to December 22. The Ducks were finding the net on a much more frequent basis after a period of serious decline.
What about Boudreau referencing the reversion to solid defense to build confidence and ignite goal scoring? We can use the same shot share analysis to verify that.
Below is the Corsi Against components graphed on the same rolling 10-game average. Once again the yellow bar marks the Dec 22 date referenced in the article. Missed and blocked shots against was on the rise with shots against actually at its lowest in the 2015-16 season. Shortly after Christmas, the Ducks seemed more dedicated to blocking shots, with missed shots declining into the teens from a high just under 25%. Notice the small bump in shots against immediately after the turn of the calendar.
The Ducks may have indicated a tightening up defensively to shore up their offensive game, but scoring seems more dedicated to their increased ability of getting shots on goal, not their defensive game. Aside from a bump mid-season in blocked shots, there’s very little to indicate a defensive solution to their goal scoring woes.
More recently, shots against are creeping higher with both missed & blocked dropping. There’s the tell on the Duck defensively this season.
The Penguins struggles landed squarely on the Crosby, questioning his ‘declining skills’ and fall from grace. Negative connotations crept into the common story as the Penguins struggled more and more. Crosby failed to immediately find creative cohesion with the former Maple Leafs winger and he and Kessel were separated after the experiment landed with a thud.
Crosby has amassed 20 points in a 12-game point streak, with the Penguins now on the verge of locking down a postseason berth.
Using the same graph of shot-based metrics per 60 minutes from Anaheim above, check out the spike in goals scored. The solid line indicates the Penguins coaching change. That image eerily parallels the Penguins captain’s Corsi For chart from war on ice. We can go deeper too, by looking at the Corsi components.
The Penguins lack of offensive explosiveness leading up to the coaching change (the solid yellow bar) are well displayed here. Making up their Corsi For components, blocked shots were decreasing while missed shots replaced the decline, with a very small effect on their overall Corsi For. From the image above, their Corsi For per 60 didn’t really change until the shots on goal increased shortly after the coaching change. Most recently, shots started spiking with a corresponding drop in missed shots, but the blocked shots are creeping back up.
Defensively, the Penguins don’t seem to have changed much. The most recent spike in blocked shots as a makeup of their Corsi Against component with the corresponding rise in missed shots accompanies a drop in shots against. The Penguins are not only finding the net more often, they are limiting shots on goal more effectively now, a dangerous combination for their opponents.
Both clubs struggles early on are based on the lack of scoring. With the goals starting to pour in, the defensive structure the Ducks coaching staff leaned on to increase scoring in December is starting to creep out of effective range, while the Penguins are tightening up.
The playoffs are coming. A striking balance is needed if either of these teams are to make any kind of run to a Championship.